Hackers and Data Breaches

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the huge data breach that occurred at credit bureau Equifax earlier this year and was made public on September 7. Exploiting an unpatched vulnerability in one of their websites, hackers gained access to personal information on 143 million Americans, including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and in some cases even driver’s license numbers. Credit card numbers for about 209,000 individuals were also accessed.

Equifax discovered the intrusion on July 29 and acted immediately. Their investigation and forensic activities are ongoing. The complete and up-to-date information about the data breach is available at https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/consumer-notice/

If you have any type of credit at all, there’s a good chance your personal information was compromised. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself from this data breach or others like it.

  1. Watch out for unscrupulous parties taking advantage of the situation. Be skeptical of unsolicited phone calls or e-mails. Never respond to an e-mail asking for personal information or click on links in unsolicited e-mail. Never give out personal information on the phone or online unless you initiated the contact.
  2. Sign up protective services. EquiFax is offering complimentary identity theft protection and credit monitoring protection through November 21, regardless of whether or not your personal information may have been impacted by this security breachUpdate: EquiFax is no longer offering a free service. There are companies that offer paid services. If you're not familiar with these services check out LifeLock or Zander Insurance Identity Theft Protection.
  3. Place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit file. With a fraud alert, lenders or providers should not grant credit in your name without first contacting you to obtain your approval. To request a fraud alert, contact the credit bureaus via phone or online, fill out a short form, and answer questions about your credit history. A credit freeze blocks anyone from accessing your credit reports without your permission. This can be inconvenient since if you DO want new credit, you would need to make sure to remove the freeze ahead of time, but it many cases, it can also have the secondary effect of helping protect your credit rating as well.
  4. File your taxes as early as possible. Scammers will be turning to tax identity theft attempting to use Social Security numbers to get tax refunds.
  5. Regularly inspect a free copy of your credit report. By law, each of the three credit reporting companies must provide a free copy of your credit report each year at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/ Check all your financial accounts on a regular basis and review your monthly statements. Enable account activity alerts when available.

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